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Oral history

Summaries and transcripts


Summaries are important for cataloguing oral histories, as they can be used in the ‘description’ field of a catalogue entry to list the topics covered in the interview. This will be useful if researchers are looking for sections to include in a book, documentary or exhibition. Summarise the interview by topic and write a sentence for each one with a timecode – this will help researchers find what they want to listen to quickly.

An example summary with timecodes could look like this:

[00:00] Mrs. Susan Aida Bridge, former teacher at Market Langthwaite Secondary School

[00:40] Early life growing up in Market Langthwaite, family relationships, father worked on a wherry, mother did seasonal work on local farms; adventures with brothers and sisters

[05:34] Experience of life at school, favourite lessons, experience of bullies and how she dealt with them

[10:45] Experience of rationing in the years after World War Two

13:04] Leaving school and training as a teacher in Norwich; life in Norwich in the late 1950s

[17:50] Return to Market Langthwaite as English teacher; nerves around first lessons; relationship with teachers and headteacher

[20:04] Stories about particular lessons and children [note: section between 23:30 and 26:45 muted because of sensitive content]


It may be useful to have a transcript of your recording. Transcripts can be used to pick out select quotes when creating edited highlights of recordings, for use in documentaries or displays.

They are also helpful for allowing researchers with hearing impairments to access the information held in the recordings.

A full verbatim transcription of a recording is very time-consuming – a standard guide is around 6 hours of transcription per hour of recording, and that’s for professional transcribers! Often a summary of the recording is all you will need, but if you do want to transcribe sections of an interview, or the whole thing, there are software packages that make things a little easier.

Visit the Oral History Society for their recommendations of transcription software.

There’s also been improvements with automatic transcription software where you upload your recording and get a transcript back. If you’re interested in voice to text transcription just be aware of the organisation’s small print and make a note of the rights they claim over the recordings you upload.

Transcription software is getting better at understanding accents, but even with automatic transcription there will need to be an element of quality checking and editing.


If you have a transcript of a recording that you believe contains sensitive information, you can use the search function on your word processing software to find words such as ‘discipline’, ‘corrupt’ or ‘dismissal’, which might indicate potentially sensitive passages within the recording that should be closed.

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